A Case Forever Unraveling: Nine Months Later, the Hunt for JonBenet's Killer Seems Hopelessly Stalled

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Nine months later, the hunt for JonBenet's killer seems hopelessly stalled

THE LETTER, THREE hand-scrawled pages on lined white paper, didn't mince words: "Mr. Ramsey, Listen carefully! ... At this time we have your daughter in our posession [sic]. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter." In the nine months since the Christmas murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, no piece of evidence has been more closely scrutinized than the ransom note. At first, investigators believed that handwriting and behavioral experts would help them create a profile of the killer. A photocopy of the note, obtained exclusively by NEWSWEEK, shows that its author made what one handwriting analyst calls a "clumsy" attempt to disguise his or her writing. To the dismay of local prosecutors and an increasingly impatient public, police still say they don't have enough evidence to make an arrest.

What is taking so long? By now it's well known that the small Boulder, Colo., Police Department wasn't equipped to handle a complex and high-profile murder case. But a NEWSWEEK investigation reveals that the police made errors surprising even for a department unfamiliar with finding a killer -- and may have overlooked evidence supporting the possibility that an intruder killed JonBenet. What's more, facts gathered on a tour inside the Ramsey house -- and gleaned from the police report taken the day of the murder -- indicate that much of the information leaked to the public about the case is simply wrong. The new information may help explain why the investigation has dragged on for months but turned up so little.

It didn't take long for the cops in surrounding towns to realize that their Boulder colleagues were in over their heads. But Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby turned down all offers of assistance. Left on their own, Boulder investigators quickly focused their attention on John and Patsy Ramsey -- and many top investigators in the department still strongly believe one or both of the parents were involved in the crime.

The ransom note, for one thing, was written on paper from a pad found in the house, suggesting that the killer wasn't in any hurry to get out, even though the rest of the family was presumably sleeping upstairs. But in the crucial days after the murder other potential suspects were ignored, and witnesses with information relevant to the case were never contacted. One close friend of the family, who asked not to be identified, told NEWSWEEK that she and her husband were probably the last people besides JonBenet's parents to see her before the murder. On the night of the crime, the Ramseys stopped by her house to drop off a Christmas basket of gourmet foods. Two days later the friend called Chief Koby. She thought the police would want to learn about the Ramseys' state of mind the night their daughter was murdered. But even though she and Koby were friends, he didn't call back. She called twice more in the coming weeks. At last, Koby sent out a detective to hear her story. But when he arrived, the officer said he had no idea why he was asked to visit her and was totally unfamiliar with the facts of the case.

There are other examples. The mother of the girl JonBenet played with the entire day before her death said she had to call the police repeatedly before detectives came out to see her. And even then, she says, the interview was brief, and the officers took few notes. The police never thoroughly canvassed the Ramseys' area to question neighbors as to whether they had seen or heard anything unusual that night -- a routine procedure even with lesser crimes. Neither did they question known child molesters in the area until last month.

The police also failed to thoroughly investigate employees at Access Graphics, John Ramsey's company. Some were interviewed repeatedly; others were ignored. The day JonBenet's body was discovered, police went to the company and asked to see personnel records of employees who hadn't shown up for work that day. …